That is not how Mario and Aldo recall it. They whispered to each other, "No corse in America." No racing in America. The five Andrettis joined their American relatives in Nazareth, 70 miles from New York. The twins seemed destined to a secure but uninspiring future of steel mills or desk jobs.
Three days later Aldo was lying in his bed with a migraine headache when Mario came thundering up the stairs of their great-uncle's house, shouting, "Eh, Aldo! Nazareth ha una pista per le corse!"
Aldo sprang from the bed, forgetting his headache. Nazareth had a racetrack. And so the Andretti twins saw for the first time the strangest pista they had ever encountered, an oval track with a dirt surface, not at all like the winding, paved road circuits of Europe. In Europe racing was done with expensive sports cars or with pure race cars. Here it was done with stock cars, huge American passenger cars modified for racing.
"That," says Mario, "was probably the happiest moment of my life. Instead of looking at racing as something that was way down the road for us, this was something we could begin working on right away!"
They promised each other that they would somehow build one of these stock cars. They had no idea how, but they decided: "Let's stumble through it," Mario recalls. "We were possessed."
Ci sono molte corse in America! Indeed, much racing in America.
It took Mario and Aldo three years of learning the workings of American cars, and of raising funds at the rate of $5 apiece from school chums—"investors" in the racing team—to get a race car ready. It was a 1948 Hudson Hornet. As the 1959 season opened at little Nazareth Speedway, a half-mile oval, the twins realized they still had a problem. "One car, two of us," says Aldo. "We decided to flip a coin for who would drive the first race, and we would take turns after that."
Neither twin had ever driven on an oval, let alone on dirt, but the Andretti blood must have risen. "I got to drive first, and I won," says Aldo. "Then Mario won. We won a stretch of about nine or 10 races in a row. It got to be a spectacular for the promoters to start the Andretti boys in the rear and let us charge through the field."
If not for Gigi's difficulty with English, Mario's and Aldo's racing dreams would indeed have drowned during the Atlantic crossing. And Aldo wouldn't have been injured so badly. And Mario wouldn't be world famous. And Michael, Jeff and John would be sitting behind desks rather than in cockpits. And Adam might be obsessed with Little League. And Marco would be on a tricycle. And all would have been restless for life, vaguely longing, but unfulfilled.
But, says Aldo, "my father is a proud man, and it was embarrassing for him to let people know he didn't understand the language so well. He never figured out why, when he'd go to work at Bethlehem Steel on Monday mornings, there'd be a bunch of people around the time clock, waiting to congratulate him on how well we had done. He was too proud to ask them what they were talking about. He'd say, 'Yeah, yeah, good boys. I know they're good boys.' He knew we worked at the filling station after school. He thought we must be doing an excellent job of cleaning windshields or something."